If an organization's values, ethics and behaviors form the framework of workplace culture, emotional intelligence (EQ) is the glue that holds it all together. In the past few years, we have observed that both candidates and clients are placing a greater emphasis on emotional intelligence in the interview and selection process. Candidates are mission driven and are selecting organizations and roles based on the organization’s commitment to social change and causes. Similarly, clients are employing emotional intelligence as a factor in interviews as an EQ fit is increasingly a predictor of a successful fit between candidate and client.
What is emotional intelligence?
In simple terms, EQ is a person's innate (or learned) ability to recognize, understand and manage their own emotions—as well as other people's—and respond in an appropriate, productive way. There are five key aspects of EQ that were developed by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman:
Why is EQ in the workplace so important?
Organizations with a high level of emotional intelligence are more likely to have high employee engagement, job satisfaction, creative approach to solutions and retention. This is not simply a platitude on their websites and in their marketing slicks but is in the very DNA of the organization and its culture. Elevated EQ lends itself to more cohesive teams, close bonds between colleagues, creative problem solving, and employee engagement. Employees feel supported by management and are confident their feelings, aspirations and ideas really matter. When stress and conflict arise, these issues can usually be sorted out in a positive and productive manner.
After a long slug through the pandemic, which left many workers feeling mentally exhausted and isolated, an emotionally intelligent workplace is especially vital.
A 2021 Businessolver survey found that 90% of Gen Z say they’re more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. Right now, in the red-hot candidate-centric job market, we are seeing lawyers leaving roles because they feel it’s not a good EQ match. During the hiring process, candidates are interviewing clients as much as clients are interviewing them. They are vetting companies and firms to find out if they are flexible, purpose-driven and supportive. They want assurance that there is a platform for employees to openly share their ideas and concerns. They want to know they will be able to contribute to the organization in a meaningful way.
All of this requires self-reflection when embarking on a job search. Candidates must know themselves well and understand the types of environments that bring out the best in them.
What this means for employers
The growing emphasis on emotional intelligence is a signal that employers need to shift their thinking, too. It’s usually a given that a candidate has the practical skills and experience needed to get the job done. But hiring managers tend to be over-reliant on résumés, which are two-dimensional and not always a dependable way to evaluate potential employees. Instead, EQ and situational questions need to be asked during an interview and similar questions need to be asked when conducting reference checks.
To home in on these qualities during an interview, ask open-ended, behavior-focused questions. Some examples of questions designed to reveal emotional intelligence include:
Do not hesitate to ask follow-up questions about the specific actions the candidate took and what thoughts they were having at the time. Their responses can speak volumes about their suitability for the role or assignment. Consider whether their answers resonate with the kinds of attributes and attitudes that are on your candidate wish list—such as personal accountability, strong collaboration skills or the ability to handle high-pressure situations.
These soft skills—those “intangibles” that cannot be expressed on paper—cannot be overlooked. Attributes like creativity, empathy, good social skills and adaptability may be a better indicator than technical expertise when it comes to how well someone will perform or fit into an office culture. For example, the EQ level and personality required in a life sciences legal department might be vastly different from what is required to fit in well at a law firm. Lawyers working in the life sciences must be comfortable with uncertainty (the product could fail in the clinic; the FDA could request additional testing) and be able to collaborate effectively with groups of people (e.g., intellectual property, sales, research, and development). Conversely, a candidate who will succeed in a law firm is often used to hierarchical/chain of command reporting structures and a checklist mentality. Pre-employment assessments and reference checks can help you evaluate soft sills and EQ up front.
Another example is interim work. Being adaptable and flexible is extremely important. Interim lawyers need to be able to pivot quickly if an employer runs up against an unexpected issue. They must almost be effective and concise communicators.
The résumé and other traditional hiring staples will not be done away with anytime soon. But consider the benefits of adding a third dimension to your recruiting process. Digging a bit deeper to assess candidates' EQ can lead to more successful hires, stronger teams, and better project outcomes. It’s a more intelligent way to build the first-class workforce you aspire to have.